Polar Biology

, Volume 31, Issue 8, pp 999–1010 | Cite as

Effects of sea ice extent and food availability on spatial and temporal distribution of polar bears during the fall open-water period in the Southern Beaufort Sea

  • S. Schliebe
  • K. D. Rode
  • J. S. Gleason
  • J. Wilder
  • K. Proffitt
  • T. J. Evans
  • S. Miller
Original Paper

Abstract

We investigated the relationship between sea ice conditions, food availability, and the fall distribution of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in terrestrial habitats of the Southern Beaufort Sea via weekly aerial surveys in 2000–2005. Aerial surveys were conducted weekly during September and October along the Southern Beaufort Sea coastline and barrier islands between Barrow and the Canadian border to determine polar bear density on land. The number of bears on land both within and among years increased when sea-ice was retreated furthest from the shore. However, spatial distribution also appeared to be related to the availability of subsistence-harvested bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) carcasses and the density of ringed seals (Phoca hispida) in offshore waters. Our results suggest that long-term reductions in sea-ice could result in an increasing proportion of the Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear population coming on land during the fall open-water period and an increase in the amount of time individual bears spend on land.

Keywords

Polar bears Sea ice Distribution Bear density 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Funding for aerial surveys in 2000–2002 was provided by British-Petroleum (BP) Exploration Alaska Environmental Studies Group, as part of mitigation for Northstar oil production facility, and by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Chuck Monnett of the U.S. Minerals Management Service generously provided ringed seal data collected during bowhead whale surveys. Craig Perham (USFWS), Rosa Meehan (USFWS), John Haddix (former USFWS), Verena Gill (USFWS), Jonathan Snyder (USFWS), Charlie Hamilton (USFWS), Bill Streever (BP), and staff of LGL Research Associates participated as observers in aerial surveys. Special thanks to Dave Weintraub and Ralph Aiken of Commander Northwest Limited for many hours of safe flying. Surveys were coordinated with the North Slope Borough, Alaska Eskimo Whale Commission, and representatives from the villages of Barrow, Nuiqsut, and Kaktovik.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Schliebe
    • 1
  • K. D. Rode
    • 1
  • J. S. Gleason
    • 2
    • 3
  • J. Wilder
    • 1
  • K. Proffitt
    • 1
    • 4
  • T. J. Evans
    • 1
  • S. Miller
    • 1
  1. 1.Marine Mammals ManagementU.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceAnchorageUSA
  2. 2.Environmental Studies SectionU.S. Minerals Management ServiceAnchorageUSA
  3. 3.Kulm Wetland Management DistrictU.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceKulmUSA
  4. 4.Department of EcologyMontana State UniversityBozemanUSA

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